AV Companies Fear UK will Lose Out Because of Government Turmoil

Autonomous driving focused companies in the UK say their future is at risk from government delays in passing laws allowing on-road testing.

Internal turmoil within the current government’s Conservative party is being blamed for delays in passing new laws for AV testing that could be spiked when the government is expected to be voted out of power in 2025, Reuters reports. Despite saying last August that it would advance a bill in the current parliamentary session, which is expected to end this autumn, providing detailed regulations by 2025, the government has failed to do so.

Failure to enact regulations could see the nation lose ground to other countries like France, Germany and the United Arab Emirates or even several US states including California, which are putting regulations in place. Start-ups are actively lobbying the government to pass the bill, while insurers need to know who is liable so they can insure driverless cars. They fear a self-driving bill will be crowded out by other vote-winning priorities in the public sector strike ridden country in the run-up to the election.

Claudio Gienal, head of UK and Ireland operations for global insurer AXA, said: “There is a window of opportunity for the UK to at least be leading on something. Whoever moves first will have the advantage of attracting investment, skills and expertise. But if you’re second or third, why should people come here?”

AV specialist Wayve has raised around $260M so far from investors, including Microsoft.

So far, the UK government has been seen as highly supportive of AV start-ups, with its Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles securing more than $496M in private and government funding for some 90 projects. Kaity Fischer, commercial vice-president at Wayve, said: “We’ve got to see the legislation move forward in this next (parliamentary) session to make this a reality. Or we would be forced to move to other markets for deployment.”

Oxford’s AV pioneer software firm Oxbotica has raised about $225M from investors and is working on projects with customers including BP and British online supermarket and technology group Ocado. Founder Paul Newman said he was optimistic the government will pass its promised bill but added it is “extremely important that we get this done very, very soon”.

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in Europe. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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